A megastar and all-time great who often slips through the cracks — just how good was Philadelphia 76ers legend Julius Erving?
Julius Erving, better known as “The Doctor” or “Dr. J”, is arguably the greatest player ever to suit up for the Philadelphia 76ers. Number 6 in the rafters alongside the 1983 championship banner is enough to put him in the conversation, at least. However, when it comes to ranking him amongst his fellow NBA legends, he more or less gets hung out to dry. You’ll never quite see him put on the same pedestal that the likes of Larry Bird or Magic Johnson are.
What is the reason for this lack of stardom? Could it be that a portion of his prime was spent in the ABA? The era he was dominant in? Today, we’ll dive in and take a look at one of basketball’s craftiest players: A look at his career, beginning to end.
THE LEGEND OF RUCKER PARK
To truly capture the greatness that was Dr. J, it is imperative that you first take a gander at where it all started — he infamous Rucker Park. Rucker is one of the most legendary basketball locations in the world, and Erving is a big reason for that.
It is well known that not only would the bleachers be full before Julius Erving would take the court, but nearby rooftops would as well. People would do this to simply witness his greatness, no matter how difficult the lengths they went to were. If that isn’t a sign that a player is great, then I’m not quite sure what is.
THE COLLEGE YEARS (1968-1971)
After high school, Erving would enroll at the University of Massachusetts (UMass). There, he would average 26.3 points along with around 20 rebounds per game. Being “just” 6-foot-7, 20 rebounds is an incredibly impressive feat. He goes on to win. This makes him one of just six players to average 20/20 in an NCAA season. Erving will eventually go on to play in the ABA after his collegiate career, becoming one of the best players in UMass history.
THE AMERICAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION (1971-1976)
Dr. J is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest player in the ABA’s short history. Whether you want to agree or not, it’s hard to see how one can disagree with this. He averaged 28.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and all of this was on 50 percent shooting from the field.
This is an astounding career for a league trying a multitude of new things (three-point line, dunk contest, etc). Having put this league on the map, especially after the 1976 dunk contest, where Julius Erving became the first recorded person to dunk from the free throw line. He would win three ABA MVPs. After this, the ABA was bought out by the NBA. This resulted in the rosters merging — where the Doctor would start to become a legend in the city of Brotherly Love.
THE DOCTOR ARRIVES IN PHILLY
When The Doctor finally found his forever home in Philadelphia, it was love at first sight. He burst on to the NBA scene in 1976 and immediately averaged 21.7 points per game, around four assists, and 8.5 rebounds. As a “rookie”, this is a fantastic year and it proved that Erving was here to stay.
He would earn the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 1981, just the beginning of his NBA accolades. Along with Moses Malone, Dr. J would lead the 76ers to the 1983 NBA championship, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 in the Finals series. This would all but seal Erving’s Hall of Fame resume. This was confirmed when in 1993, when he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame.
After this, many players come and go, with the Doctor getting all but forgotten about.
Despite all of these accolades, inspiring Michael Jordan, and being one of the most athletic players in history, why isn’t Erving put on the same pedestal as his aforementioned rivals? In my opinion, it’s the fact that some of his prime was spent in a league that no longer exists and that he played in an era far removed from ours now.
In the meantime, appreciate what he’s done for our beloved 76ers and the city of Philadelphia itself.